Money, Mood, Happiness, and How to Live to 100

Dan Buettner is the author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest and Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. He has done research on the distinctive habits of people with the greatest longevity around the world. Yesterday on The Dylan Ratigan Show he talked about happiness. One thing to note his how important social networks of trust are to happiness and health.

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A great many people belong to very bad religions in no small part because they provide the kinds of social networks, feelings of trust, and opportunities for charity that Buettner is talking about here. Atheists, if we are going to be rational about combating the influence of authoritarian religions, have to double down our efforts to create alternatives that do not require people to trade off their brains for deep social connections that are oriented around service to others.

Buettner discusses his research on the longest living people in the world in a fascinating TED video:

Did you catch the part where he said being part of a faith-based community adds 4-14 years to life? Atheists need to figure out rationalistic ways to systematically replicate the life enhancing communal mechanisms that make that happen. Faith is a vice. Many people embrace that vice because doing so is interconnected for them with a strategy for gaining other benefits. If we can provide the benefits without the irrationalism, i.e., without the beliefs that eschew concern for evidence, then we can take away any need for the average person to compromise their reason for their happiness.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • DobermanGuy

    I think it can be done but few things are going to equal what centuries of molding fairy-tales has accomplished. As far as anticipating the afterlife and reuniting with all the lost ones youve grieved over, I’d like to hear those secular convictions that bring as much peace.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I would be really surprised if any one belief could be attributed with adding 4-14 years on average to people’s lives—especially since not all religious people have beliefs in an afterlife and even those who do grieve as badly (or worse!) than non-believers.

      I’m pretty sure we are dealing with more basic mechanisms—most humans need tight connections to communities and to live lives that involve giving to others in meaningful ways that tie them to others.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Clearly atheistic religions could fill that role. Much of the readership of this site, as I deduce from the comments, might not be comfortable with calling practices without theism “religion” but the name doesn’t matter. Call it what you will. A community that celebrates meaning, purpose and values is something many humans want and need. No need to re-invent the wheel, either. There are atheistic religions out there, and some are quite ancient. And certainly the contemporary interest in paganism is particularly amenable to a naturalistic approach. Eric’s recent series on Wicca only scratched the surface of what I think is an incredibly rich field of inquiry.

  • dubliner

    Secular countries in the EU have the same, and in some cases better, life expectancy as the US so it seems unlikely that being part of a ‘faith based’ community is the primary variable. Seems to me this fits the old saying “correlation is not causation”. I suppose you could wonder if the Scandinavians and other Europeans have found ways to encourage community that atheists have not in the US but is that really all that likely? One variable among many to consider is perhaps that being part of a faith based community gives one access to increased health care options. I’m always reading about church communities raising funds for one of their sick members in the US whereas we don’t need to fall back on that option in the EU. I’ve often wondered if that is a prime reason many people don’t like to question ‘faith’ too much in the US – a poor social safety net makes dependence of church communities a necessity perhaps.

  • John Morales

    Did you catch the part where he said being part of a faith-based community adds 4-14 years to life?

    No, because I haven’t watched the video; nonetheless, that claim seems parochial and suspect to me.

  • baal

    While I generally laud your goals, the faith-ish religion route has practical problems that I don’t think are surmountable.

    Living a long time and having good socializing opportunities has a lot to do with the physical geography where you live; general degree of education of the community; availability of high quality food and free time.

    Pushing for public good that enhance these non-religious elements allow for folks to have the close knit good relationships communities and don’t have the burden of avoiding the irrationalism of faith and the endless abuse opportunities of having a single praise worthy leader for group rituals.


    As a separate point, I agree with you and Sam Harris that mental exercises are good for your brain and body. Like push – ups or jogging, getting the basic how-to can be done in a few minutes even if regular practice is needed for the benefits. This means you don’t need a religion to get trained.

  • Stacy

    dubliner raised a good point. A recent study tied religiosity to economic inequality:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/why-is-economic-inquality-associated-with-religiosity/

    Many of the benefits religion offers can (and should) be provided by a stable society that does not allow for extreme want or inequality. And as for community–there are many organizations that already provide that (CFI, anyone?)

    I understand not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but in the case of religion, now that we no longer need the god hypothesis or supernaturalism, I’m not sure there is a baby in that tub. All the needs religion meets can be met elsewhere, and at much less cost.

  • grumpyoldfart

    If you want to live to be 100, choose your parents carefully.

  • KG

    Did you catch the part where he said being part of a faith-based community adds 4-14 years to life? – Daniel

    No. Unless you have a different version of the video from the one I saw, or I somehow blocked it out, he didn’t say that. At what point was it? (I have heard or read similar claims; I don’t know how well-founded they are.)

    As has already been noted, many European countries which are far more secular than the USA (and where there are no significant atheistic religions nor attempts to invent them), have higher life expectancies than the USA, and lower levels of many social pathologies. I believe Phil Zuckerman’s Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment has a lot of information on this, although I haven’t yet read it. A point the speaker made in passing (I wonder why this was not brought out more – well actually, no, I don’t, it’s bleedin’ obvious), was that at national level: “A short ladder between the richest and the poorest” i.e. low socio-economic inequality, is one of the keys to a high level of happiness. Much more about this in a book I have read, Wilkinson andPickett’s The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better; see also here. Religiosity and income inequality also correlate strongly at national level, and among the US states.

    Of course, it could be the case that happiness correlates negatively with religiosity at societal level, and positively at individual level – but at least at the former, your obsession with “salvaging religion” is rather obviously barking up the wrong tree.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    He talks about it at the 18 minute mark. I am not obsessed with salvaging religion. I am interested in non-faith-based communities performing whatever valuable roles have kept authoritarian religions in business despite their harms for centuries, so that with these better alternatives atheists can get the maximum benefits and be an unambiguously superior alternative to faith-based religions in the marketplace of institutions.

    Even the secular countries of Scandinavia are still nominally Christian. I look forward to the day they are in no way Christian but full blooded secularists culturally as much as politically.

    • KG

      He talks about it at the 18 minute mark.

      Ah. When I played the video, it only lasted about 10 minutes. Not sure what was going on.

      So what if the Scandinavian countries are still nominally Christian? Their social lives are not built around either church communities, or atheist pseudo-religions, so they do not support your claims. You have used the term “salvaging religion”, and you go on and on and on about the need to replicate its supposed good features. That’s obsession. What’s kept authoritarian religions in business for centuries is their authoritarianism.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s the second video, not the first one, where he talks about belonging to faith groups adding 4-14 years.

      You have used the term “salvaging religion”, and you go on and on and on about the need to replicate its supposed good features. That’s obsession

      I have used the term salvaging religion but that’s not my primary focus. My primary focus is salvaging whatever goods religions presently uniquely provide. My attitude is that if that involves salvaging religion, purified of all its harms, then sobeit. And I’m open to exploring explicitly how that might work. But at the same time, I’ve written about “The Dangers of Religion Itself” too. (See also the blame I place directly on religion in my post on the backlash against Jessica Ahlquist.

      So I’m not so obsessed with salvaging religion that I’ll say anything to make it sound like a perfectly benign part of reality. In fact, I’m not obsessed at all. I’m just doing my job as a philosopher and a blogger concerned about philosophy of religion, ethics, and atheism, by exploring in detail, and from various perspectives, how religions (and “religion itself”) provide benefits and harms. I am interested in the truth and the good, that’s all. Now, part of my interest given my ardent atheist readership, is to help the dialectical process move beyond the obvious “all faith beliefs are false and religions have many dangerous practices” to think about more nuances and to think about constructively where we go from there and how we persuade religious people to abandon the faiths which dominate their minds and lives.

      In that spirit, I think that an unpleasant fact, like that going to a faith-meeting 4 times a month on average correlates with 4-14 years more of life needs to be faced head on and not just dismissed because there are other more comforting statistics about Scandinavian countries. I want us to deal with this uncomfortable fact and think about how we can get atheists to live 4-14 years longer, while still allowing them to be true to reason. What’s wrong with that?


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